What is a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?

Published on: Aug 11 2022

What is a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a science-based quantification of all of the environmental impacts created over the entire life cycle of a product. It is a tool being used more commonly in the food and beverage industry as companies try to evaluate and reduce the impact their businesses have on the planet and a stepping stone toward a future of sustainable nutrition.

A Life Cycle Assessment provides data for multiple indicators with weighting relative to the environmental challenges. Today’s global food system can be complex, and each ingredient in a final product can have its own LCA. These are the indicators recommended by the European Commission:

  • Climate change/greenhouse gas emissions
  • Ozone depletion
  • Soil acidification
  • Eutrophication
  • Water use
  • Land use
  • Toxicity to humans

At each stage of the supply chain, material, energy, and pollutant emission balances are produced and aggregated based on these indicators.

What is cradle to gate?

Cradle to gate is an LCA that takes into account supply chain stages from the farm all the way to the place where a product is sold (i.e. a retail or service provider). These are the pre-consumer impacts that food and beverage producers would have the most control over.

What is cradle to grave?

Cradle to grave is an LCA that takes into account supply stages from farm to waste at the consumer level. In other words, cradle to grave accounts for the production and distribution of a product like cradle to gate, but also the impact consumer use and waste have on a product.

To learn more about how LCAs are used and what the future will bring for metrics on environmental impact, watch our on-demand webinar Actioning Sustainable Nutrition: Challenges and Opportunities.

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